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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 23)
Japan's rightward shift

Will Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speed up his rightward shift once the ruling coalition had a convincing election victory? Japan's neighboring countries are watching the island nation's next moves warily, though the election results are already anticipated.

   Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner, New Komeito, won a combined 76 seats in Sunday's upper house elections, giving them a total of 133 seats, more than the 122 needed for a majority. The LDP won 65 seats, which together with the 50 it held before the elections give it 115, short of all outright majority, according to the Associated Press. The ruling coalition gained control of both chambers, paving the way for the hawkish Abe to rule Japan over the next three years.

   There are two differing outlooks regarding how the world's third-largest economy will act in the aftermath of the elections.

   One is for Abe to avoid unnecessary clashes and pursue harmonious relations with Seoul and Beijing, Tokyo's key neighbors, in a major departure from his conservative swing that has been the norm since his coalition's big win in the December lower house polls. Abe will focus on dealing with economic matters, including a plan to raise the 5 percent sales tax to 8 percent next April.

   The other is for the conservative leader to embark on -- without a hitch -- carrying out his conservative agenda, including revising the post-war pacifist constitution and bolstering Japan's military, and not budge an inch from his tough confrontation with South Korea and China. These moves will certainly strain ties with the two neighbors, which are embroiled in disputes over territories and wartime history with Japan.

   Whether Abe will visit the Yasukuni Shrine on the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender will be a litmus test for gauging his future actions. That is, Abe will push ahead with his visit to the shrine, if he is to begin his rightward moves in earnest. His pilgrimage to the shrine will anger Seoul and Beijing, where bitter memories of Tokyo's past militarism run deep, and in this regard, there is speculation that Abe won't do so this year.

   Even more rough seas will hit East Asia because the increasingly conservative Japan will collide head-on with the more assertive China over which will be the leading power in this region. But Japan's latest retrogressive moves are anachronistic enough and can't be tolerated under any circumstances. Japan first should reflect on its past misdeeds committed against its neighbors genuinely and convince them that the same blunders won't be repeated.

   Ties between Seoul and Tokyo are at such a low ebb that they can't hold a summit meeting. Given that President Park Geun-hye rules out a meeting without results, there won't be a summit for the time being. To tide over this situation, the Japanese prime minister must be prudent in its rightward shift once the elections are over.